Worried about energy costs?
Help is at hand if you're worried about energy costs
by Derek Mitchell, CAS Chief Executive.
This article was first published in the Herald on 17 December 2022.
The Citizens Advice network in Scotland is currently running Big Energy Saving Winter, a campaign encouraging people who are anxious or worried about bills to seek advice.
We estimate 1.7 million people in Scotland are worried about being able to pay their energy bills, and the same amount are anxious about adequately heating their home. Meanwhile almost 3 million people are anxious about the cost of living crisis more broadly, beyond energy bills.
All of this is leading to people cutting back, with over 2 million people reducing their household spending to deal with rising energy costs.
Those numbers show the scale of what we are seeing, but it is the real-life stories that show how devastating this crisis is. In some cases parents are cutting back on things like school trips or after school clubs for their kids, which is a heart-breaking decision in the run up to Christmas.
CAB advisers have reported instances where disabled people are having to choose between buying food or charging their medical equipment and mobility scooters. I have almost found myself desensitised to the disgrace of people having to choose between heating their home or feeding themselves, but vulnerable people choosing between food and charging essential equipment horrified me.
Elsewhere, CABs report of people using their concessionary cards for their local leisure centre to shower twice a week because it was cheaper than doing it at home, or people using the bus to get a heat rather than switch it on at home. One family bought cloth nappies to save on costs, but can’t afford to run the washing machine to wash them.
Our Extra Help Unit - a team of specialist energy case workers - are seeing surging levels of emergency calls and are doing incredible work on a daily basis, helping people facing traumatic circumstances.
So do advisers across the whole CAB network, who are seeing increasingly that people who are coming in struggling to pay their energy bills and also need advice on food insecurity.
What I want people to understand is that the CAB network is here for anyone who needs us, with free, impartial and confidential advice. We are for everyone – whether you are working or not working, a student or a pensioner, we don’t care about your background and we don’t judge you – we just help.
I understand that people can be cynical about whether anyone can help them, but our advisers get real results – one in six people who sought advice last year saw a financial gain, the average value of which was over £4,200.
That could be absolutely life-changing - or indeed life-saving - money for people this winter, and that feeds through to people’s stress levels decreasing. In the words of one recent client
“They made everything feel normal. They made you feel okay about asking for help. During these times where everything is a struggle. They made it easy.”
Another said: “They seemed to understand what I was going through. There was a lot of tears and I had a panic attack on the phone but the case worker managed to calm me down.”
So if you’re worried this winter, our campaign will help you find a way to get advice that suits you and your circumstances.